They were all born after the fall of the wall but before the fall of the towers.
Eight years before the end, ten-year-old Steven stepped off the train holding his father’s hand. There was an unattended bag resting beneath a bench on the platform. Which was worse? Not spotting the bag in the first place or not telling anyone? Steven always noticed, every single time, and he never said anything. Why were people always forgetting so much luggage? Was it a game? Parks, airports, sporting events, government buildings, open plazas, unattended baggage was everywhere, waiting to be cautiously removed and destroyed. His feet made the turn and his eyes rolled over the nylon.
Steven realized that if the backpack were a bomb, it would cause citizens to run the wrong way in the event of an attack. Tourists would be involved. And bombs love tourists.
It wouldn’t be an incendiary device. There was nothing flammable in the station. The ceilings were so high that a chemical attack wouldn’t be possible from a bag of that size. A dirty bomb would be wasted underground. The real fun would be ruining the economy of the city above by turning commercial districts into unusable radioactive dead zones for a few decades. Even at the age of ten, Steven knew they tested nuclear weapons underground. He knew they had reasons other than circumventing test-ban treaties.
Instead, the bag would be packed with a high explosive. A timer would trigger blasting caps because cellphone reception was shoddy. The device would be surrounded by jars of screws and nails. There would be an additional bomb at the other end of the platform, or maybe on an arriving train. At rush hour, one bomb could take out dozens before the second upped the count tenfold.
Simple pipe bombs or pressure cookers would probably take a few lives, but this was the big leagues. A high explosive creates a supersonic shock wave. This wave does the real work. It knocks people around, inducing internal injuries that may not be obvious in the chaos of triage. The wave would be amplified off the walls and ceilings, people would be thrown. Outdoors: the wave would go away rapidly. Indoors: fractures, dislocations, head injuries, chest trauma—half of the body count would be immediate.
Steven knew and knows the truth:
There’s the blast, and then the wave hits the body. It picks you up. It impacts your internal organs, traps gasses, and forces ruptures. It exceeds your body’s tensile strength. It’s the air that tears you apart. Not the fire, but the boom. Then there’s the debris, the shrapnel, the fragments; they rip into you at high speed. Finally, as if you’re not in enough trouble already, you have to land somewhere. In the case of this subway platform, you would either drop the five feet to the track or fly the twenty to the wall.
But most bombs don’t actually go off like they’re supposed to. The human brain struggles to correctly wire anything.
Reaching the escalator, Steven said goodbye to the station, just in case.
Even when he was little, Steven knew all of this. He knew because he wanted to. He paid attention to these things.
The Auditorium was one of two venues capable of holding a full grade for assembly at LeMay Senior High School. The figure on stage was speaking with a practiced emotional edge. There were theater lights on the ceiling, jumbled black cylinders with life-giving wires snaking into the boards above. Bodies were draped on carpeted steps in place of actual seats. This was a public school. The luxury of furniture was only provided during shows and performances, where the fags and faghags who weren’t good enough to get into Duke Ellington School of the Arts put on their accented voices, where the bands played too loud and the choirs sang too soft. Since the room was not big enough to contain the whole school, this specific assembly would be repeated for each grade, the show going on and on for the poor staff and faculty who had to witness several iterations. A mother, or more correctly, a former mother, sat onstage with a doctor and the vice principal, chatting about the drunk-driving-texting-slutting-drugging untimely end of her teenage daughter.
Chloe thought someone smelled like Band-Aids. Hopefully it was not Michelle, seated directly to her left. Michelle was wearing a silver shirt that slung over one shoulder and traveled under her armpit. It had a V at her collarbone. Her chest was never fully covered.
Chloe felt a buzz, the rip of vibration through cloth, carpet, skin, and floor. On her phone’s screen there was a picture, a digital imitation of a photo-booth memento. Two boys were cuddling, smiling, and then kissing. One of the faces rang true and she perked and tried to find him in the room. He was sitting with some of his teammates, sort of pudgy and fumbly, but with clear eyes and an unchanging smile. This, in the picture and on the bleachers, was Michelle’s boyfriend. Chloe obscured the screen and showed it to Lauryn, on her other side.
“Who sent it?” Lauryn whispered.
Michelle’s eyes were fixed in the distance, unaware of her friends’ conversation.
“His sister,” Chloe responded by text, the frill of her top stretched to hide the message.
Lauryn’s fingers went to work on the keys concealed in her pocket.
“He told their mom she was hiding booze in her closet.”
Chloe tried not to burst out laughing as the character on the stage was summoning tears. Chloe put her head on clueless Michelle’s shoulder, obstructed from the adults by a large boy taking up the space in front of them. So tired. Her eyes closed.
Chloe could not stay awake because Chloe could not sleep.
Her head bounced upward from its droop, a falling sensation bringing instant consciousness—a reflex courtesy of an ingrained genetic memory from back when
Excerpted from Echo of the Boom by Maxwell Neely-Cohen. Copyright © 2014 by Maxwell Neely-Cohen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission.
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